Finland to take in 750 quota refugees, ignoring calls to raise figure

Pre-screened Syrian refugees from Turkey and Congolese refugees from Zambia will move to Finland next year – in far lower numbers than those accepted by Finland's Nordic neighbours.

Congolese refugees in Rwanda. Image: Dai Kurokawa / EPA

Finland will accept 750 quota refugees from Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo next year, the Interior Ministry announced on Thursday. The number was not a surprise, as it has remained mostly unchanged for years. It is far lower than the numbers accepted by Finland's neighbouring Nordic countries.

Thursday's announcement specifies the nationalities and current location of those who will be selected by Finland to arrive here in 2018. They will be Syrian refugees, now in Turkey and Congolese refugees, now in Zambia.

Some 33,000 people – mostly women and children – have fled to Zambia because of long-running violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo, while an estimated 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the civil war began about five years ago.

EU pays €10K per person

Also known as "transfer refugees," these individuals are selected as part of organised withdrawals, usually in tandem with the UN High Commissioner. They are processed and certified as refugees by the UN before being resettled in other countries. The UN and the European Commission have repeatedly asked the affluent Nordic countries to take in more quota refugees.

The Commission pays member states for each resettled person out of the EU's Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund. Finland will get 10,000 euros per refugee to pay for integration and placement costs.

As in previous years, Finland says it will also be ready to resettle up to 100 other emergency and urgent cases as needed, without limitations on nationality or region.

Conservatives, Greens seek higher quota

Finland began taking in quota refugees in the 1970s, initially from Chile and Vietnam. In later years they have mostly come from Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

Last spring, the conservative National Coalition Party proposed permanently raising Finland's refugee quota to 1,050, a level that was set in 2014 and 2015 in response to the Syrian civil war.

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Quota refugees arriving in 2010. Image: Yle

  However the NCP proposal was shot down by their then-government partners, the Finns Party. Its parliamentary group chair Sampo Terho said "there will be no discussion of this". Terho remains in government as leader of the new Blue Reform party, which split off from the Finns Party last summer.

This autumn, the opposition Greens called for the government to raise Finland's refugee quota to 2,500 annually.

Public split

The public seems to be deeply split over the issue, according to a survey published by the Uutissuomalainen newspaper group in mid-November. About two-thirds of respondents said the quota should be kept the same or raised, while one third said the programme should be suspended or shut down completely.

Neighbouring Sweden is accepting 3,400 quota refugees this year, while Norway plans to take in 1,120 next year.  Tiny Iceland will invite 55 quota refugees in 2018, and plans to raise that number significantly in the following years. Denmark accepted 500 quota refugees annually until 2016, when it suspended its participation in the programme.